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RWJ Hamilton offers high-risk smokers lung cancer screening at reduced fee
Hospital discounts CT scans to $99 to encourage screening not yet covered by insurance
For more information or to find out if one qualifies, call 609.584.5900.
Date: 8/21/2013

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton has initiated a lung cancer screening program for high-risk smokers and former smokers, that uses a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan to detect tumors.

The program, which began in July, offers the scans at a reduced cost - $99 - to encourage people who meet the screening criteria to get tested. “Our goal is to get more people screened and make the screening more accessible to our community,” said Dr. Biren Saraiya, medical director at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey Hamilton, RWJ Hamilton’s cancer center, and a lung cancer specialist.

The test was considered the gold standard following a national study of over 50,000 people that concluded the screening could reduce mortality from lung cancer. “We are often frustrated by the late detection of lung cancer; currently most patients diagnosed with lung cancer are incurable. We want to change that. With this screening we can help people either find some peace or find early treatment.”  

President & CEO Skip Cimino said this latest initiative by RWJ Hamilton tackles a major public health issue in Mercer County. “The 2012 Community Health Assessment conducted by the Greater Mercer Public Health Partnership found lung cancer to be the leading cause of cancer death in Mercer County,” says Cimino. “Lung cancer is an ugly disease, so if this screening can give someone with a history of smoking a better chance at beating it then this investment is more than worthwhile.”

The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) helped determine criteria for the screening. To qualify, individuals must have a “30-pack year” history of smoking; a “pack year” is the number of cigarette packs smoked per day multiplied by the number of years smoked (someone who smokes two packs a day for 15 years would qualify). Individuals must be at least 45 years old and are either currently smoking or have quit within the past 15 years.

The NLST compared utility of the low dose CT scan with the previous standard, chest x-ray.  Low dose CT scan allows for detection of cancer at an earlier stage, when it is more likely to be curable.  The study showed dramatic improvement the survival rate, said Saraiya. 

Insurance companies do not currently cover the screening, but that’s likely to change as medical consensus builds that supports the use of CT scans to save lives. Just last week, an influential government panel – the United States Preventive Services Task Force – issued a draft recommendation that smokers between the ages of 55 to 80 who have a history of smoking a pack a day for 30 years or more, as well as those who have quit within the last 15 years, should get low dose CT scans to check for tumors. 

“I anticipate the government will eventually require insurance companies to cover the CT scan for this screening, as they have done in some instances under healthcare reform,” Cimino added. “The Affordable Care Act established criteria for adding mandatory coverage for life-saving screenings. Hopefully, this is just a matter of time.”

Nationally, about 160,000 people die each year from lung cancer, more than colorectal, breast, pancreatic and prostate cancers combined. Experts believe the use of CT scans potentially could save 20,000 people a year. In New Jersey, lung cancer accounts for 12.6 percent (6,210) of all cancer cases and 25.4 percent (4,160) of all cancer deaths according to 2011 data reported by the American Cancer Society. 

RWJ Hamilton’s lung cancer screening program includes a nurse navigator to explain how the scan works and what to expect.

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Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton Hamilton. Phone: 609-586-7900 Physician Referral: 609-584-5900.

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